Life & Style | People

The success and bravery of Christiane Amanpour

Veteran war reporter Christiane Amanpour is now hosting two news programmes around the world. She lets Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary in on how she stays calm in the face of conflict

  • By Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Friday magazine
  • Published: 00:00 April 20, 2012
  • Friday

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Christiane has a clutch of awards including the Courage in Journalism Award and a Giants of Broadcasting honour from the Library of American Broadcasting.
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Christiane Amanpour is one of the most recognised names in the world of television news. She is considered by many to be CNN's greatest asset thanks to her in depth coverage and gutsy dispatches from war zones around the world.

In 2010 Christiane left CNN for an opportunity to anchor This Week at ABC News. Now she returns to CNN as the chief international correspondent for the 30-minute daily foreign affairs programme Amanpour.

Because she was in such high demand from both global and national audiences, Christiane, 53, decided to do something not many journalists get a chance to do - straddle two major news networks. She retains her job as the global affairs anchor for ABC News providing international analysis on important issues of the day, anchoring prime-time documentaries on international subjects, while working on her own programme, Amanpour, for CNN.

Christiane has braved bullets and bombs, air crashes and tsunamis to report live to audiences around the world. From 9/11, the horrific tsunami of 2005, the London terror attack, riots in France, Hurricane Katrina to reporting live during the first democratic elections in Iraq, she has been there and done it all. It was little wonder that Forbes magazine named her one of the 100 most powerful women in the world in 1994 - a title she works hard to be worthy of.

"This is an exciting time to have this unique role of straddling two news networks," says Christiane from her office in New York. "I am thrilled to come home to CNN where I have reported for so many years and combine this role with the reporting that I will continue for ABC News. Viewers in America and around the world recognise that we live in a globally inter-connected world, from the Arab Spring to the economic challenges faced by Europe and the US, to security challenges everywhere. We are all in this together and we will look at all of these events and the people moving these events from all angles without fear or favour."

Christiane's international sensibilities have been shaped by her multicultural background. Her father Mohammad, who is from Iran, married her mother Patricia, who is from England. Although Christiane was born in the UK and went to school in England, she has briefly lived in Tehran.

Christiane graduated summa cum laude with a degree in journalism from the University of Rhode Island and began her career at CNN in 1983 as an entry-level assistant on the network's international assignment desk in Atlanta. She soon worked her way up to become a correspondent with the network's bureau in New York City.

Her big break came during the 1990 Gulf War where she was made an international correspondent. Since then, she has reported on almost every major world news event from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Somalia, Rwanda, the Balkans, Egypt and Libya.

In her tenures at CNN and ABC News she had the opportunity to interview most of the world's leaders including Iranian Presidents Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Presidents of Afghanistan and Sudan, as well as ousted leaders Muammar Gaddafi - who has since been killed - and Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring.

"I had the opportunity to interview these people several times in the past, and they agreed to give me an interview again because they were familiar with my work,'' she says.

After the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, Christiane was the first international correspondent to interview British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

Christiane has a clutch of awards including the Courage in Journalism Award and a Giants of Broadcasting honour from the Library of American Broadcasting. She is also the recipient of nine honorary degrees and was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), a citation bestowed by Queen Elizabeth in 2007.

Christiane once swore that she would never get married or be a mother, but she fell in love with the former assistant secretary for Public affairs in the US government, James Rubin, and married him in 1999. Their son Darius was born a year later.

In an exclusive interview, Christiane opens up to Friday about her professional achievements and her family life:

In the three decades you have spent as a war correspondent you have witnessed so much aggression and violence. What do you feel your job as a reporter truly is? How do you draw the line between emotions and objective reporting?

I think my job as a reporter is to seek the truth, no matter how discomforting it might be, and to tell that to my audience without fear or favour. I don't think there is any problem in mixing emotions and journalism. As a human being, one is bound to react when one witnesses an act of human rights violations. What is important is not to let that cloud your judgment and not to forget the context.

How have these experiences affected you?

Of course when you see victims of violence and aggression it would be difficult not to be affected by it. But I put all my energy into not letting that affect my reporting, while trying to keep the context of human rights violations in mind.

What is the one thing you have learned from your experiences that will stay with you forever as a golden mantra?

Objectivity. On the front I am the eyes and ears of the people and I have to give all sides a fair hearing but that does not mean treating equal time to the victim and the aggressor.

You have interviewed people accused of crimes such as Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak. What were your feelings when you were interviewing them?

I don't go into an interview making judgments about my subjects. But I do see a fundamental difference between Mubarak and Gaddafi. While President Mubarak eventually heard the voice of his people and stepped down, Colonel Gaddafi - to the very end - kept saying that his people were with him and loved him, and there was no question of him stepping down. And as for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, he continues to defy his people.

What is the fear of death like? You must have seen and experienced feeling that at very close quarters.

There have been many instances when I have faced death during my time war reporting. It feels scary. But in that moment, I do not have the time to feel paralysed by fear. I know I have to keep my wits about myself and stay alive to be able to tell the story. I have been fortunate unlike many of my colleagues who were not so during the 1990 Gulf War and recently in Syria.

What has been your greatest moment as a war reporter and why?

There have been many great moments but the most striking was the four years I spent covering the war in Bosnia 20 years ago. I regard that as the most important work of my life. That was the first instance of genocide in Europe since the Second World War.

We had to take a stand and report fearlessly about what was happening. I feel because of the manner in which we reported the Bosnian War, the West listened and we were able to avert genocide there when the Kosovo War happened.

How has marriage and motherhood changed you as a person? How difficult is it to leave your child to go on assignment?

I never like leaving my son Darius for anything, ever. It is very difficult and painful for me. But I often explain to him that mama has to go seek out the bad guys. However, I think as his mother I also have a responsibility to let him know the importance of my profession and the place of women in society. I feel by doing my job I am imparting a good lesson to him. Darius is 12 and sometimes he thinks it is cool to have a mum like this, but sometimes he wishes so many people would not pay so much attention to his mother.

What are the things you love doing when you are off duty?

I love spending all my free time with my husband James and my son. When I am home I love going for movies, to the beach, to my son's soccer games and music performances.

How do you feel about coming back to CNN and reviving the programme Amanpour? What do you look forward to most?

I am really delighted to be back with CNN. I have enjoyed working with ABC and addressing issues for the American audience but I am also really glad coming back to CNN and reviving my relationship with the global audience.

You are the only journalist who has had the honour to work on two major shows, straddling two American networks, ABC News and CNN. How does this affect your loyalty to both?

I am a professional and believe in doing what I am entrusted with. I think it is a privilege to be able to address both the American audience and the global audience.

How does your husband cope with knowing you are in danger when you're on assignment?

Nobody likes to know that their partner has put herself in danger. But James has always been very supportive of me. We share similar world views.

What's the story or interviewee that got away?

Oh, there are plenty of stories and interviewees that got away - and there are some that I still need to go after as a journalist. I have many people on my list I would love to interview. But I am not going to reveal that list here.

Do you have any unrealised ambitions?

Life would be very boring if one did not have dreams and ambitions to realise. There are lots of things I would love to do. Cooking is one and working out another that tops my to-do list.

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